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The Agony & the Ecstasy:

Is pain a necessary part of human experience?

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This Debate

Havi Carel, Christopher Hamilton, Barry C Smith, Raymond Tallis. Zoe Williams hosts.

We take it for granted that eradicating pain is desirable. And since De Quincey remarked that a quarter of human misery was toothache, remarkable strides have indeed been made. But is it possible, and do we want, to eliminate pain and suffering entirely or is it necessary to life?

The Panel

Physician Raymond Tallis, philosophers Christopher Hamilton and Barry C. Smith, and metaphysician Havi Carel, who has a terminal illness, question the purpose of pain.

Jump to what you want to see in the debate
  • Raymond Tallis
    The Pitch
    Physician and philosopher argues that pain is essential to survival.
  • Christopher Hamilton
    The Pitch
    Philosopher of religion believes pain is the poison of life.
  • Havi Carel
    The Pitch
    Philosopher of medicine seeks the eradication of physical pain.
  • Barry C Smith
    The Pitch
    Philosopher of language and mind thinks pleasure and pain are inseparable.
  • The Debate
    Theme One
    Does pain enrich life?
  • The Debate
    Theme Two
    Should we find meaning in physical suffering?
Join the conversation

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Bernard Betts on 03/05/2014 5:02am

ChowchillaC, you are wrong. As a suffer of Brown-Sequard Syndrome, I feel no pain or temperature change in one of my legs, yet I can sense the lightest touch. Therefore, as you put it, "A life without pain would be a life without physical sensation," is simplistic and a knowledge of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology explains why pain can be separated from other sensations. I have suffered intolerable, badly managed pain before and, without excuse, after surgery. Pain degrades the human condition and should be the first item on the agenda for any physician to deal with.

Ellen on 24/08/2013 12:40am

The Tallis video was interesting, and of cosrue, in the video's first half, he is right about the real lack of insights to music pleasure currently provided both by neuroscience and by the current evolution scenarios for music's origins. The second half was centered on a strange thesis that claimed that an understanding for that pleasure (in the neuroscience and evolutionary terms) was not really possible because music comes from a drive and a need to express something probably something to do with emotions. That direction seems impossible to correctly reconcile with evolutions very simple requirements, and hence his claim that evolution was not required for it (although he thinks evolution is correct). I would say that more likely our imagination has been too barren to find the correct evolutionary scenario that explains music. Interestingly, language origin explanations currently also lack adherence to correct' evolutionary requirements, but everyone (correctly) assumes one exists.Fitch, Tallis, and others quickly dismiss sexual selection as a possible force for music selection because of the lack of sex-dimorphisms for music (differences for music ability between the sexes). The assumption they all make (including Miller) is that, for music sex-selection (by female choice), music must be an indirect fitness indicator. That is saying something like: you would need a healthy brain to do music, therefore doing music shows you have genes that thrive in the current environment (like peacock-tails) hence good genetic material for off-spring. The problem is that indirect fitness indicators must be sex-dimorphic (details omitted here but it is from the cost-benefit differences between the sexes for the trait), and therefore, because music ability is not sex-dimorphic, music cannot be an indirect fitness indicator and is thus not under sex-selection.They are completely correct that music cannot be an indirect fitness indicator. However, other mechanisms also can drive sex-selection (by female choice) that are not indirect fitness indicators and hence do not drive a sex-dimorphism. The way these direct sex selection forces operate means they must eventually produce different cost-benefit ratios for males and females, and hence they will eventually become indirect indicators; however, music may not be at that particular turning point yet.The sex-selection elephant in the room is the principle: for female choice environments, males who provide more pleasure to females gain a reproductive advantage. If you combine that with the certainty that music gives pleasure and the pleasure varies by performer, then how can sex-selection not be active? Of cosrue it is; and music, because it is not sex-dimorphic, must be a direct indicator of something very useful.I think I know what that useful thing is, but perhaps others would like to think about it too.

ChowchillaC on 22/11/2012 3:50pm

Raymond Tallis is right as usual. Of course humans can't escape physical suffering, even if it has been somewhat lessoned after generations of scientific advancement. A life without pain would be a life without physical sensation, and a life without physical sensation is a life condemned to exist in a voidless bubble utterly displaced from the world.

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