20 February 2008

The subjective experience of punishment

Friend of PFP has an intriguing article on sensitivity to punishment and punitive practices here.

Suppose two people commit the same crime and are sentenced to equal terms in the same prison facility. I argue that they have identical punishments in name only. One may experience incarceration as challenging but tolerable while the other is thoroughly tormented by it. Our sentencing policies seek to equalize the duration of their incarceration, yet largely ignore the differences in their experiences of isolation, stigma, and confinement. In this article, I argue that, according to our prevailing theories of punishment, the subjective experience of punishment matters. There is, therefore, a disconnect between our punishment practices and our best attempts to justify those practices.

There are three possible responses. First, we could try to modify or expand our theories to avoid the obligation to calibrate punishment. I show why this approach is unlikely to succeed. Second, we could conclude that, even though we ought to calibrate our punishments, doing so would be too costly or difficult to administer. This response is too hasty. In civil litigation, we do make subjective assessments of damages. Advances in neuroscience may someday make these assessments more accurate and less expensive. Even if we cannot individually calibrate punishments, we can surely enact sentencing policies that are more subjectively-sensitive than the policies we have now. We are left, then, with only the third response: to recognize that subjective experience matters in assessments of punishment severity and to take at least modest steps toward calibrating punishment, either through individual measurement or, more feasibly, by enacting punishment policies that are subjectively sensitive.

18 February 2008

Hick on suffering

John Hick on suffering

by suffering we mean that state of mind in which we wish violent or obsessively that our situation were otherwise. such a state of mind involves memory and anticipation, the capacity to imagine alternatives, and (in man) a moral conscience. For the characteristic elements of human suffering are such relatively complex and high-level modes of consciousness as regret and remorse; anxiety and despair; guilt, shame, and embarrassment; the loss of someone loved, the sense of rejection, of frustrated wishes, and of failure. These all differ from physical pain in that they refer beyond the present moment. To be miserable is to be aware of a larger context of existence than one's immediate physical sensations, and to be overcome by the anguished wish that this wider situation were other than it is. [Evil and the God of Love, pp.354-5]

Two questions:
(1) Is this a privation account of suffering's badness in any traditional sense?

(2) He certainly means that suffering is (usually?) worse than physical pain alone. But how broad a time span does he have in mind? That is, it's plausible that over a week long period, suffering --as distinct from physical pain-- might be intrinsically worse. But could he plausibly say this about a stubbed toe 2 seconds after impact?

10 February 2008

Pics of pain

Check out some pain art: PainExhibit.com

08 February 2008

Carnival of PAIN!!!!!

The always excellent and informative How to Cope with Pain carnival for January is up here. Check it out.

06 February 2008

Efficacy of morphine

ScienceDaily (Feb. 3, 2008) — Opioids, such as morphine, are effective and widely used drugs for the control of pain.

However, tolerance to opioids can develop with repeated administration (that is, higher and higher doses of the drug are required to achieve the same level of pain relief).

Nonetheless, there is some evidence to suggest that tolerance to opiods does not develop when they are used to treat individuals with diseases that are accompanied by inflammation.

Support for this hypothesis has now been provided by Christian Zöllner and colleagues from Charité--Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany, who found that peripheral tolerance to morphine did not develop in the chronically inflamed paws of rats.

Furthermore, blocking the action of endogenous opioid compounds in the inflamed tissue enabled tolerance to morphine to develop.

These data indicated that under conditions of chronic pain, endogenous opioid compounds prevent morphine from causing tolerance, inferring that the use of peripherally acting opioids for the prolonged treatment of inflammatory diseases such as chronic arthritis, inflammatory neuropathy, and cancer is not necessarily accompanied by opioid tolerance.

Journal of Clinical Investigation (2008, February 3). Managing Chronic Pain: When Does Morphine Become Less Effective?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 6, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2008/02/080203101431.htm#

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and sexual abuse

ScienceDaily (Feb. 3, 2008) — UCLA and University of North Carolina researchers have found that women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who have experienced sexual and/or physical abuse may have a heightened brain response to pain that makes them more sensitive to abdominal discomfort. IBS is a condition that affects 10 to 15 percent of the population and causes gastrointestinal discomfort along with diarrhea, constipation or both.

Researchers used brain imaging to show that patients with IBS who also had a background of abuse were not as able to turn off a pain modulation mechanism in the brain as effectively as were IBS patients who had not suffered abuse.

According to previous studies, more than 50 percent of patients with IBS have been physically or sexually abused at some time in their lives. The new finding may help explain why those in this subset of IBS patients experience greater pain and poorer health outcomes than others with the disorder.

Such insight provides a greater understanding of how the disorder develops and may offer new pathways for treatment. Brain imaging studies were performed at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center.

The research appears in the Feb. 1 online edition of the journal Gastroenterology. Authors include Dr. Emeran Mayer, professor of medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; Dr. Douglas Drossman, professor of medicine, and Dr. Yehuda Ringel, lead study author and assistant professor of medicine, both at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIDDK and NCCAM).

University of California - Los Angeles (2008, February 3). Abuse History Affects Pain Regulation In Women With Irritable Bowel Syndrome. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 6, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2008/02/080201085752.htm