Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A puzzle about pain and time

Suppose that at each time at which Jim experiences a pain, Sally experiences a pain that is exactly alike phenomenally, and vice versa. Suppose also that their attitudes to this kind of pain are the same. Then with respect to pain, neither is better off than the other.

But now let's add that Jim and Sally are born in the year 2000 and both die in 2040. But Jim's life proceeds twice as fast as Sally's (due to drugs or Special Relativity), so that in one minute of external time, Jim experiences two minutes of subjective time. Let's suppose that Jim and Sally have the same attitudes towards pain, and that Jim has a constant headache from his 20th subjective year until her 30th subjective year, while Sally has the same intensity of headache from her 10th subjective year until her 15th subjective year. Then Jim suffers that headache from 2010 through 2015, while Sally suffers it from 2010 until 2015. The headache is constant, so at every time at which Jim suffers a headache, Sally suffers exactly the same headache, and vice versa. And let's suppose that's all the pain either of them suffers.

By the plausible principle I started the post with, Jim and Sally are equally well off with respect to pain. But on the other hand, Jim has ten subjective years of pain while Sally only has five. Clearly, Jim's life is worse pain-wise than Sally's, even though at every time at which Jim suffers, Sally suffers equally, and vice versa.

Here are some interesting ways out.

  1. Time is discrete. Then we can't really speed up a life by a factor of two--we'd have to skip every second "frame".
  2. There can't be any literally constant pains. Instead, pains register at discrete moments of mental life. If these moments are sufficiently closely spaced, the pain seems continuous. On this discrete moment theory of pain, Jim will have to have twice as many moments of pain from 2010 until 2015 as Sally does, so it's false that at every time at which Jim has a pain, so does Sally.
  3. Pains attach to intervals of mental life rather than particular moments. This makes the equivalence principle I started the post with make no sense, since there is no such thing as having a pain at a particular time, just as the Zenonian teleportation argument can be read as teaching us that there is no such thing as moving at a particular time.


IanS said...

I don’t think the Special Relativistic version works as described. Remember that in SR, simultaneity at different locations is relative.

Jim really does experience more pain: 10 years of it as measured by his clock vs Sally’s 5 years as measured by hers. But they (with their clocks) must be at different locations, a least for almost all of their lifetimes. If their pains are suffered at the same times in Jim’s reference frame, they will be at different times in Sally’s.

No comment on the drug-induced version.

Heath White said...

I think there is a contradiction in the description, "Suppose that at each time at which Jim experiences a pain, Sally experiences a pain that is exactly alike phenomenally, and vice versa.... But Jim's life proceeds twice as fast as Sally's."

If Jim is packing in twice as much subjective phenomenal pain as Sally in a given objective second, then their pain-experiences can't be phenomenally exactly alike.

Alexander R Pruss said...


At every instant of his subjective time when he is in pain, Jim has the same pain as Sally has at every instant of her subjective time when she is in pain.

Now consider some instant t of *external* time when they are both in pain. At t, there are two corresponding instants of subjective time, namely t_J and t_S. The pain that Jim feels at t is the same as the pain he feels at t_J. The pain Sally feels at t is the same as the pain she feels at t_S. But the pain that Jim feels at t_J is the same as the pain that Sally feels at t_S.

If, further, time and pain are both continuous, then every instant t of external time from 2010 until 2015 is an instant at which both Sally and Jim are in pain.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Try this:

“I am not afraid to fail,… I’m scared to death of dying and having the Lord say to me, “Angelica, this is what you might have done had you trusted more.” Mother Angelica. -

See more at: http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2016/04/04/the-right-kind-of-fear/#sthash.QdQvTmcJ.dpuf

Good article at that link.