Is there a scientific theory that explains the quality of pain in terms of the physical universe?

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by Speakpigeon, Dec 19, 2018.

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Is there is a scientific theory that explains the quality of pain in terms of the physical universe?

Poll closed Jan 18, 2019.
  1. Yes

    42.9%
  2. No

    14.3%
  3. I'm not sure either way.

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  4. The question doesn't make sense.

    42.9%
  1. Speakpigeon Registered Senior Member

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    916
    Do you think there is a scientific theory that explains the quality of pain in terms of the physical universe?
    EB
     
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  3. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    The quality of pain depends on the quality of brain...

    I voted:

    The question doesn't make sense.
     
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  5. geordief Registered Senior Member

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    994
    Have we a definition of pain?

    For starters there is physical vs mental and then there are gradations such that pain bleeds into pleasure or just plain sensory experience.

    Is it all about fulfilled or unfulfilled expectation?

    Can pain be more than fleeting (Does it renew itself at every moment of conscious awareness?)

    Is there such a thing as unconscious pain?
     
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  7. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

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    Evolution? Pain is unpleasant feedback from our body, accompanied by an emotional and physical response, elevated respiratory and heart rates, increased Adrenalin; all in preparation for a physical confrontation or flight from the source.
     
  8. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    5,126
    You've been posting some very good thread topics, Speakpigeon. I'm impressed. They are questions that professional philosophers ask.

    I'm aware of the (so-called) 'Hard Problem', Frank Jackson and 'Mary black-and-white', but I'll stubbornly persist in saying 'yes'.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_argument

    I don't think that we currently have such a theory but I do think that one is possible in principle.

    What a scientific theory of pain would explain is everything that one could say about pain. (What profoundly color-blind Mary, the world's greatest scientific authority on color vision, can already do in her black-and-white existence.)

    The obvious objection is that the complete set of every scientific fact about pain would leave out one vital thing: what pain feels like (or in Mary's case, what color looks like). So (the argument goes) no physicalist theory can be a completely satisfactory account of mind's place in the universe.

    My reply (it's a work-in-progress) is that the scientific theory of pain can potentially describe why feeling pain would be very different than thinking about the nature of pain. Presumably these two tasks would be have very different kinds of neurological correlates. Pain is something akin to a sensory experience about one's bodily state (associated with an intense innate avoidance response), while thinking is something very conceptual and maybe associated with the language functions.

    If pain is a particular set of neurological stimulations, or the self-reflexive awareness that one has been so stimulated or something like that, then thinking conceptually about the nature of those neural stimulations wouldn't be the same thing as being so stimulated. That difference would still be subject to scientific description and explanation.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2018
  9. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    15,656
    A 'theory?' Not as such.

    Pain plays a valuable role in self-preservation, and as such is a conserved phenotype. Organisms who can feel pain live longer, and can reproduce more successfully, than those who don't.
     
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  10. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    28,823
    It is possible that pain in social or group living animals also sacrifices the "self" organism for the benefit of the genetic population.

    As the mechanisms - the events in the body - are so poorly understood (iirc the list of detection cell types involved - before the brain is even reached - was around seven and climbing, all of them interacting), one expects the philosophies will be due for amendment in the near future.
    Empathy is not restricted to the conceptual level. The empathic flinch is a "physicalist" topic.
    People at risk of suicide often describe themselves as in pain, and their brain activity seems to support the claim - as far as we know. Other apparently mental states - emotional loss, social shame, etc - likewise. These can be created or triggered (caused?) by language, apparently, sometimes.
     
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  11. Speakpigeon Registered Senior Member

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    916
    As a point of logic, it seems to me, if the quality of pain depends on the quality of the brain then either there isn't any scientific theory of the quality of the brain, or there should be a scientific theory of the quality of pain.
    On substance, I would assume that we all know the quality of pain, at least whenever we are in pain, but I'm not aware that anybody would know the quality of any brain, unless you want to say that pain is the quality of your brain whenever you're in pain, but that would make my question perfectly legitimate, meaningful and still unanswered.
    EB
     
  12. Speakpigeon Registered Senior Member

    Messages:
    916
    I used the expression "quality of pain", to signal I'm talking about our subjective experience of pain, not about any objective manifestation of pain.
    As such, I would assume that we all know the quality of pain as we experience it. This doesn't assume we all feel the same or that one pain is the same as any other. It only assumes that we all know the quality of the particular pain we experience whenever we are in pain. So is there a scientific theory that would explain the quality of pain in terms of the physical universe.
    These may be legitimate questions but this thread asks just one question.
    If the question doesn't make sense to you, I can always try to be more explicit, or you can just vote accordingly.
    EB
     
  13. Speakpigeon Registered Senior Member

    Messages:
    916
    I would agree that evolution is our best explanation for most if not all objective manifestations of pain and that it is a scientific theory despite it's limitations.
    I don't think the theory of evolution explains the quality of pain, i.e. what it feels like to be in pain. I don't think it even explains how pain as a set of objective manifestations came to be preserved by natural selection in terms of the quality of pain.
    And that goes for the fact that the quality of pain certainly is "unpleasant".
    EB
     
  14. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    28,823
    Evolution would not be expected to specify like that. If there are other qualities pain could have, and still function as required for selection, they may well have just lost out by chance. Whatever works, and shows up first.
     
  15. Speakpigeon Registered Senior Member

    Messages:
    916
    Sure, but none has been answering them yet.
    Whatever the subject can say about pain is irrelevant to the quality of pain. The quality of pain is from a first person perspective. It's what the subject experiences subjectively. What he would say about pain or the quality of pain is essentially considered from an objective perspective, exactly in this respect as would any behaviour the subject may show when in pain. The quality of pain, as from a first-person perspective, is for each of us to know from experience independently of each other. I'm not asking whether science can explain the quality of pain as I experience it but whether you think there is a scientific theory that explains the quality of pain as you experience it.
    That's indeed the question.
    I can understand why feeling pain should be different from thinking about pain, but I don't think any science can explain how the two experiences are produced to begin with. The experience of thinking is just subjective as the experience of pain, although both have apparently equally objective manifestations science can study.
    Again, the question would be as to how the difference gets to be experienced.
    EB
     
  16. Speakpigeon Registered Senior Member

    Messages:
    916
    Sure, I was responding to spidergoat's suggestion that the theory of evolution maybe explained the quality of pain. I don't think so myself although it's at least conceivable that it is in fact the quality of pain which explains our behaviour when in pain. Again, not what evolution says but it remains conceivable.
    EB
     
  17. Speakpigeon Registered Senior Member

    Messages:
    916
    ???
    You don't think the theory of evolution is a theory? Or that it doesn't explain how pain plays a valuable role in self-preservation and why the phenotype exists?!
    The question is not about pain as a phenotype but about the subjective quality of pain. So, either the theory of evolution explains this quality or it doesn't. Which is which?
    EB
     
  18. geordief Registered Senior Member

    Messages:
    994
    In the terms you have outlined I will lean towards "No" since subjectivity is not a scientific discipline almost by definition.

    The whole raison d'etre of the "scientific method" is to steer the observer away from any trace of subjectivity.
     
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  19. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    5,126
    That seems to deny that psychology, neuroscience, or science in general will ever make any progress with consciousness. Which seemingly leaves us with a bifurcated reality, a Cartesian-style dualism between the world of science and the spiritual realm.

    That's why I sometimes think that the philosophy of mind has become the last philosophical bastion and redoubt of supernaturalism. It's where the philosophy of mind starts to resemble the philosophy of religion.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2018
  20. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    5,126
    They are hard. It takes work to produce a plausible answer. Especially for amateurs like us, seeing as how the professionals are still struggling with these questions.

    I think that I'm inclined to disagree. I'm more inclined to think that pain is just a neural state and that there isn't anything more to pain than what can (potentially) be said about it. What makes us think that there is, is the fact that pain isn't a discursive concept, it's an experience. Talking about it isn't the same thing as experiencing it and will never replace the experience. But I expect that the difference between thinking about a sensory modality and experiencing it can be explained in scientific concepts. Different parts of the brain involved, etc.

    That line of thinking is still just my speculative hypothesis and still isn't really ready for prime time. But even if it doesn't work out in the future, it still constitutes my answer (at this point in time) to your initial question.

    Sure. But I don't automatically assume that the first-person perspective can't be explained from a third-person 'neuroscience' perspective. Of course explaining it that way wouldn't be the same thing as experiencing it firsthand. (Hence Mary's problem with color.)
     
  21. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    15,656
    I did not claim that.
    Again, I didn't claim that. Not sure what you are talking about.
    Evolution supports the retention of the ability to feel pain. Again, not sure where you got the other stuff.
     
  22. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    28,823
    That's like the experience of color. Evolutionary theory explains how it came to be as it is physically structured - the photodetection mechanism, the neural processing, etc. It also explains the properties of the experience that "cause" behavior, which is selected. But it does not necessarily explain the exact basis or embedded context of those properties - any subjective "feel" associated with directing attention to red objects as food or warning would in principle do, as elongation of any finger bone to support a wing membrane would (presumably) do. Anything from qwerty phenomenon to happenstance to direct selection on alternatives could be involved.
     
  23. Write4U Valued Senior Member

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    11,146
    Roger Penrose proposes that physical experiential events begin with Quantum Mechanics, where crossing a quantum threshold produces a "bing", a physical reaction to a quantum change of superposed potentials (a phase shift).

    Stuart Hameroff suspects this quantum function is copied by the collapse of wave functions within microtubules in the human brain, where an overload of "bings" can produce a sensation of "discomfort", or pain in the brain or by extension from any part of the body.
    OTOH, the orderly and harmonic sequencing of "bings" produces a feeling of "comfort".

    As I understand it, it is also the fundamental premise in Buddhism. The universe is filled with "bings".
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2018

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