Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pain and machines

Some of Descartes' followers are accused of treating the noises animals make when to all appearances in pain  like the grating of a machine and hence as unconscious.  But someone could have the reverse attitude:
"The pump," said Mma Potokwane.  "It is making a very strange noise.  The water comes all right, but the pump makes a noise as if it is in pain."
"Engines do feel pain," said Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. "They tell us of their pain by making a noise." (Alexander McCall Smith, Tears of the Giraffe)
Without endorsing Matekoni's conclusion, doesn't it feel like one is causing pain to a tool if one uses it in such a way that it complains by creaking, grating or binding?

11 comments:

Alexander said...

For what it's worth, I sometimes cringe when I hear a machine under some sort of "stress" creaking, in a similar manner as when I witness someone hurting himself or herself badly.

Jarrett Cooper said...

I wouldn't put it exactly that way. But would rather say that it seems as if we're causing the machine/tool stress, and/or overuse. Not that we're causing the machine/tool pain when we use it improperly or if the machine is built incorrectly.

I feel the same as the above commenter, Alexander. Especially if the machine is something I own!

Andrew said...

Provided that the exercise of proper function of the tool does not naturally cause a creaking, grating, or bending. A metal file (or perhaps metal lathe) when used properly squeaks even though it couldn't be used any better.
(If that example is bad, there are perhaps many others where grinding/squeaking/binding/etc. are sounds of a well functioning machine...you might even think something is wrong if those sounds were NOT made.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

I cringe when my drill press binds, even though I expect the worst that is likely to happen (assuming I've taken all the normal safety precautions) is that the belt will wear out faster.

I agree with Andrew's point, though. But even for a file or grinder, there is a healthy squeaking and an unhealthy one. Just like some birds make squeaking noises when perfectly content (I hear one out the window right now).

Andrew's point is interesting in regard to animal pain. It's not actually outward similarity of behavior, I think, that is the main thing in recognizing animal pain. It is the damage itself.

On a related topic, today I buried my son's cactus. It was killed by our cold spell earlier this year. It felt kind of like burying a dead animal. It's interesting that English uses the verb "to die" for plants, animals and people. My native language, Polish, has a separate verb for each of the three cases.

loudogg said...

What do you make of Chalmers' view on consciousness? He makes comments in his book about how things like thermostats might even have a mode of consciousness.'

Does your son speak Polish as well?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I am inclined to think that substantial existence is a prerequisite for consciousness, and thermostats lack substantial existence.

But I do not find crazy the view that elementary particles could have some form of awareness (I won't say consciousness), like Leibnizian monads.

Jarrett Cooper said...

Mr. Pruss, not only does the English language use the verb "to die" for plants, animals, and people, but also for inanimate objects as well.

For example, in English we say the car battery died when it runs out of power. Does the Polish language also have a verb to designate the 'death' of inanimate objects?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think in Polish one might metaphorically use the verb for humans decease (umrzec) or the for animal death (zdechnac) for machines, but sticking to the literal one would just say that the machine broke down or stopped working.

enigMan said...

I am inclined to think that substantial existence is a prerequisite for consciousness, and thermostats lack substantial existence.

The former seems reasonable, and was famously taken to be so by Descartes. But what the hell does the latter mean? (The language is to indicate not anger but common-sensical self-confidence.) Thermostats exist, and not fictionally, nor even abstractly, but really. That they are substantial can be shown by throwing them at someone. Most physicists would take that to be showing that they exist (as when being able to spray electrons shows that electrons exist).

But I do not find crazy the view that elementary particles could have some form of awareness (I won't say consciousness), like Leibnizian monads.

The obvious conclusion is that you are crazy (similar rider about language), like Leibniz. We are clearly conscious, but prima facie we are ordinary objects, rather than modally indefinite ('substantial'?), at least physically, like chairs and thermostats. The reactivities of particles are quite unlike those of thermostats and ourselves (physically). Conversely, if we must be unlike our physical bodies to exist, then why think that particles could be aware? (I suppose that that's possible; but it's equally possible that to think so is to be crazy.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Thermostats depend on social stuff outside them for their thermostatic identity. It's only a thermostat because it's intended to be used as one.

Substances are ontologically independent.

Awareness (as opposed to consciousness) might just be information processing by an entity. And particles engage in (simple) information processing.

enigMan said...

Substances are ontologically independent.

Then the only substance is God. But there are lots of other substances of course (and one could as well say that God isn't a substance, not as those are). And a thermostat is a substantial thing.

I don't know much about thermostats, but I've a garden chair that is a single lump of moulded plastic. It's clearly a thing. And the thing it is is a chair. We are part of the world, and we created it, but now it's here, it's a thing in its own right. It would be a single, substantial object whatever became of people. No one would call it a 'chair' again if we all vanished, but it would still be something substantial.

And what about the moon? Does the moon depend upon people for it being the moon? If not, I don't see why not. In nature it is not distinguished from all else, or no more than my moulded lump of a chair is.

And so forth; in short, I would have you ask yourself why you think that substances must be ontologically independent. Maybe it seems clear to you, but lots of things seem clear to people. Space is clearly Euclidean, for example.

And particles engage in (simple) information processing.

Do particles engage in information processing? We can look at it that way, but in nature there is no information. And as Putnam pointed out, nor is there any causation as such.

(Your philosophical position interests me as it's quite common in philosophy and I've never seen why; the delay in these comments was just because I like to avoid the internet when the weather improves.)