Pain and the Body Image

It is more than strange that while dismantling Cartesian divides between mind and body has been at the forefront of philosophy for over a century, philosophy of mind is overwhelmed with literature that presumes a mind / world relationship, in which the role of the body is often up for grabs.

However, recent breakthroughs in studies of the experience of pain will hopefully inspire philosophers to bring the body back into the philosophical picture. As the BBC reports, the experience of pain is never as simple as a signal running from body to brain that results in a qualitative experience of a certain magnitude. Psychologist Flavia Mancini has demonstrated that the experience of pain is shaped by our own body-monitoring. For instance, concealing the left hand with a convex mirror that reflects the right, a patient’s threshold for pain in the left hand dramatically increases; likewise, a mirror that appears to shrink the left hand decreases the pain treshold. The larger the painful body part appears to us, the more the pain lessens in intensity.

This shows that the body image is not merely a representational space wherein pains are located like darts on a board; but rather that our own awareness of our bodies shapes the content of our experience. Perhaps even more compellingly, it shows that the body takes into account certain aspects of itself (apparent size) in determining the magnitude of a feeling or sensation. Yet all of this pales in significance compared to the fact that one finally has the excuse to keep a convex mirror in every room of the house.

Related Articles

> The Embodied Cognition Research Program

>Theories of Consciousness

You can read more at John Lidwell-Durnin’s blog, Consider the Bitter Gourd

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