Pain, placebo, and cognitive penetration


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Article
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Abstract

There is compelling evidence that pain experience is influenced by subjects’ cognitive states such as expectations and beliefs. In this paper, we explore one specific form of such influence, namely placebo analgesia, and examine its relevance for a debate in philosophy of mind and cognitive science the cognitive penetration of perceptual experience. In short, this refers to the epistemologically problematic influence of a subject’s beliefs, expectations, and desires on their perceptual experience. We begin by summarising the cognitive penetration debate, and single out as particularly important a form of cognitive influence on experience that we term Radical Cognitive Penetration. We go on to argue at least some cases of placebo analgesia constitute compelling instances of Radical Cognitive Penetration and are resistant to debunking explanations. Nonetheless, we urge caution in extrapolating from the cognitive penetration of pain experience to broader conclusions about the cognitive penetration of perceptual experience. Instead, we suggest that the cognitive penetration of pain experience raises distinctive psychological, epistemological, and ethical issues of its own.

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Journal Title
Mind and Language
Conference Name
Journal ISSN
0268-1064
1468-0017
Volume Title
Publisher
Wiley
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All rights reserved
Sponsorship
This work was supported by the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, Leverhulme Trust, under Grant RC-2015-067.