Dr. Smadar Bustan – Workshop 2009

Feeling without Awareness:
Converging Neuroscientific and Phenomenological
Approaches to Acute Suffering
Part I – Philosophy
Dr. Smadar Bustan, Philosophy, Uni. of Luxembourg


Suffering and pain name two sorts of phenomena whose differences may be overstated. Being known together as part of the innermost reality of the living being, the two notions are usually differentiated insomuch as pain reflects bodily sensations while suffering emphasizes the broader psychological and social constituent encompassed in the corporeal experience. At the same time, since we seek to develop an integrative view, the two are taken as roughly equivalent terms for the purpose of this paper: pain can be that of the soul as much as it is of the body. For our aim is to show that their lived experience is closely entangled, proposing a phenomenological and neuroscientific account of acute suffering as a way to transcend the traditional pain/suffering dichotomy. We would demonstrate this model with the example of a state known as secondary alexthymia where people who suffer are comparatively less aware of their suffering (see Dr. Kerr’s neuroscientifc development).

In order to provide a view of Suffering and Pain, I adopt a phenomenologist approach that breaks with tradition. Hence, instead of an essentialist approach that looks for a pain/suffering invariant I suggest to look at their acute form. This kind of phenomenological observation of radicalized states enlarges our field of investigation. It includes cases that testify to the grey zones, where the command of cognition is no longer assured and conceptual accounts of these experiences become uncertain, despite the support of the neuroscientific accounts (Kerr).

In concentrating on the lived experience of these phenomena, we can see them in their outmost bareness and thus truthfulness. Influenced by a line of French phenomenologists, Levinas, Marion, Ricoeur, I suggest an account of the three components of suffering and pain: 1. Saturation 2. Extreme Passivity 3. Attenuation. Combined together they provide the basis for the model of acute suffering that is necessary for renewing the discussion on the topic.