19 January 2007

Dissertation coda

A friend liked this bit of my dissertation. So I'm sharing it with you. It's the very last section of the whole thing. It says what I've done and why I think my view isn't crazy.



I admit that many of my conclusions in this dissertation are radical and counterintuitive. I have claimed, inter alia, that pains are not what we think, that all existing accounts of their intrinsic badness are wrong, that they have two distinct intrinsic values, that a privation theory of their intrinsic badness is correct, that this privation is found in their phenomenology, and that intrinsic value can have properties no one has thought to combine. Radical and counterintuitive are usually okay in small doses, but in this dissertation the dosage may seem lethal.

I suspect that much of what is worrisome here is due to the shadow of the kernel view. All of these conclusions flow from the rejection of the kernel view. If pain kernels [the raw sensation of pain] are not what we care about from the normative standpoint, then we can take a much more capacious view of what pains are and what we are referring to when we say that a pain ‘hurts’. That opens the door to progress and the conclusions of this dissertation.

Several years ago, in the middle of a judo match, I broke my collarbone. As is often the case with severe trauma, the immediate pain was surprisingly mild. In many parts of this dissertation I have been painting a picture of what I felt for just a few moments when I later attempted to get out of the car in the hospital parking lot. It’s true that my memories may be tainted by theory; and it has been several years since the accident. But it was not me whose body twisted and crumpled or me who shrieked.

As philosophers we must follow our arguments where they take us. But we must also be conscious of when they’ve taken us over a cliff. I, of course, believe my arguments. But it is my reflections on countless stubbed toes, headaches, and memories of pains past, as well as my research into pain science and the depictions of pain in literature, which convince me that we are still on the right side of the precipice.

Finally, even if some of my arguments have taken us astray, I hope that this dissertation’s approach has been suggestive. Working on pain, and just pain, can, I think, keep us close to the foundations of normative theory and illuminate many of their joints and fissures. Pain is both a window into and a microcosm of much of value theory. After all, if anything is intrinsically bad, pain is.

17 January 2007

Insect stings: Tasting notes

From the entomologist and apparent connoisseur Justin O. Schmidt.
  • 1.0 Sweat bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.
  • 1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet & reaching for the light switch.
  • 1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.
  • 2.0 Bald-faced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.
  • 2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine WC Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
  • 3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.
  • 3.0 Paper wasp: Caustic & burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of Hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.
  • 4.0 Pepsis wasp: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath (if you get stung by one you might as well lie down and scream).
  • 4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your heel.

Bonus: Bites and stings of medically important venomous arthropods

13 January 2007

Caffeine is good

Hmmmm. It's winter break --14 hour days finally getting some stuff written-- and I just started doing Judo again. This would've been good news for me, but for the last paragraph.

Although it's too soon to recommend dropping by Starbucks before hitting the gym, a new study suggests that caffeine can help reduce the post-workout soreness that discourages some people from exercising.

In a study to be published in the February issue of The Journal of Pain, a team of University of Georgia researchers finds that moderate doses of caffeine, roughly equivalent to two cups of coffee, cut post-workout muscle pain by up to 48 percent in a small sample of volunteers.

Lead author Victor Maridakis, a researcher in the department of kinesiology at the UGA College of Education, said the findings may be particularly relevant to people new to exercise, since they tend to experience the most soreness.

"If you can use caffeine to reduce the pain, it may make it easier to transition from that first week into a much longer exercise program," he said.

Maridakis and his colleagues studied nine female college students who were not regular caffeine users and did not engage in regular resistance training. One and two days after an exercise session that caused moderate muscle soreness, the volunteers took either caffeine or a placebo and performed two different quadriceps (thigh) exercises, one designed to produce a maximal force, the other designed to generate a sub-maximal force. Those that consumed caffeine one-hour before the maximum force test had a 48 percent reduction in pain compared to the placebo group, while those that took caffeine before the sub-maximal test reported a 26 percent reduction in pain.

Caffeine has long been known to increase alertness and endurance, and a 2003 study led by UGA professor Patrick O'Connor found that caffeine reduces thigh pain during moderate-intensity cycling. O'Connor, who along with professors Kevin McCully and the late Gary Dudley co-authored the current study, explained that caffeine likely works by blocking the body's receptors for adenosine, a chemical released in response to inflammation.

Despite the positive findings in the study, the researchers say there are some caveats. First, the results may not be applicable to regular caffeine users, since they may be less sensitive to caffeine's effect. The researchers chose to study women to get a definitive answer in at least one sex, but men may respond differently to caffeine. And the small sample size of nine volunteers means that the study will have to be replicated with a larger study.

O'Connor said that despite these limitations, caffeine appears to be more effective in relieving post-workout muscle pain than several commonly used drugs. Previous studies have found that the pain reliever naproxen (the active ingredient in Aleve) produced a 30 percent reduction in soreness. Aspirin produced a 25 percent reduction, and ibuprofen has produced inconsistent results.

"A lot of times what people use for muscle pain is aspirin or ibuprofen, but caffeine seems to work better than those drugs, at least among women whose daily caffeine consumption is low," O'Connor said.