Philosophers typically assume that pain is something in the mind. It is a certain sort of feeling, a phenomenal state. Indeed, it is perhaps the paradigm case of a psychological state that has phenomenal character.
In a new paper in Journal of Consciousness Studies, Justin Sytsma asks whether ordinary people see things in the same way. He reports a series of new studies indicating that they do not. On Sytsma's view, people do not think of pain as a psychological state. Instead, they think of pain as a real thing out there in the world, something located in their bodies. The idea is that the pain you feel when you stub your toe isn't in your mind at all -- it is in your toe.
- Do you think that the pain you feel when you forcefully stub your toe is in your mind?
- Do you think that the pain you feel when you forcefully stub your toe is in the toe?
In response, he finds that people tend to disagree with the claim that the pain is in the mind but to agree with the claim that the pain is in the toe.
He then uses a series of other methods to get at these issues indirectly. For example, participants in one study were given the story:
Bobby and Robby are conjoined twins that are joined at the torso. While they are distinct people, each with their own beliefs and desires, they share the lower half of their body. One day while running through a park they forcefully kicked a large rock that, unbeknownst to them, was hidden in the grass. Bobby and Robby both grimaced and shouted out ‘Ouch!’
Participants were then asked whether Bobby and Robby felt the very same pain or whether they had two different pains. Strikingly, participants tended to say that there was only a single pain here!
(Sytsma also included a control condition in which Bobby and Robby are two ordinary people who are running together and each stub a toe. In that condition, participants tend to say that they feel two different pains.)